09.03.13 Mt. 13:1-9 (See also Mk. 4:1-9; Lk. 8:4-8) Sea of Galilee
PARABLE OF THE SOWER
On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore. 3 Then He told them many things in parables, saying:
“Consider the sower who went out to sow. 4 As he was sowing,
A some seed fell along the path,
and the birds came and ate them up.
B 5 Others fell on rocky ground,
Where there wasn’t much soil,
C and they sprang up quickly,
Since the soil wasn’t deep.
D 6 But when the sun came up
C’ they were scorched,
and since they had no root, they withered.
B’ 7 Others fell among thorns,
And the thorns came up and choked them.
A’ 8 Still others fell on good ground
and produced a crop:
some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown.
9 Anyone who has ears should listen!”
Because some synagogues were closed to Him, some scholars have suggested that He may have been excommunicated from them. For example, He was welcomed to speak in His Nazareth congregation, but after the sermon that He gave, they wanted to throw Him over a cliff. Does anyone think that He was ever welcomed back?
Messianic scholars say that this parable (Mt. 13:1-9) is a reflection of Isaiah 55:20-11, because Isaiah’s passage is a comparative narrative relating the rain and the sower to the word of God and its intended divine purpose. For memory purposes, there are three kinds of losses that are balanced with three kinds of abundance. The losses were seeds that were devoured by birds, scorched by the sun, and others choked by thorns and weeds. But those that grew were beyond abundant – some a hundred fold, some sixty fold, and others thirty fold abundance. Note the parallel themes in the following two verses:
10 For just as rain and snow fall from heaven
and do not return there
without saturating the earth
and making it germinate and sprout,
and providing seed to sow
and food to eat,
11 so My word that comes from My mouth
will not return to Me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do.”
There are two views on how farmers sowed their seed throughout history.
- They sowed their seed on the ground and then plowed the soil.
- They plowed the field, sowed the seed, and then plowed perpendicular to the direction first plowed.
When the seeds were sown they were either,
- Cast by hand
- Or a sack with small holes was tied to the back of a donkey and the beast was walked back and forth across the field.
Regardless of the method of casting seed, it was a highly inefficient method of planting crops. Seeds often fell in areas that were rocky, full of thorns or along a pathway where they could not sprout. This method of sowing did not change until the beginning of the agricultural revolution in England in the early 1700s.
Critics have commented on the multiplication of seed “a hundred, sixty, or thirty times” as being an exaggeration. However, a non-Jewish witness of this era confirms the accuracy of the words of Jesus. Marcus Terentius Varro (116 – 27 B.C.) was a Roman scholar thought to have been of the equestrian rank and, as such, had the finances for extensive travel and the establishment of his own library. He produced 74 literary works on numerous topics, including agriculture. In his work, Agriculture, he identified three areas in the Roman Empire where crop yields were one hundred fold:
- In Sybaris located in Italy,
- Near Gadara in the district of Syria, and
- In Byzacium located in Africa
Of interest in this study is Gadara that Varro mentioned as being in Syria because this region was under the Roman governmental district headquarters in Damascus, Syria. More specifically, he wrote,
Around Sybaris in Italy the normal yield is said to be even a hundred to one, and a like yield is reported near Gadara in Syria, and for the district of Byzacium in Africa. It also makes a great difference whether the planting is on virgin soil or on what is called restibilis— land cultivated every year — or on vervactum, which is allowed sometimes to lie fallow between crops.
Varro, Agriculture 1:44:2
The area Varro described near Gadara is in the region southeast of the Sea of Galilee. It has the same soil composition as the Galilee area. Therefore, when Jesus spoke of a hundred fold increase, it was not an exaggeration; it was a multiplication factor with which the Galileans were well acquainted.
In addition to Varro, another author who described the bounty of this land is Herodotus. He said that,
In grain, it is so fruitful as to yield commonly two-hundred fold; and when the production is the greatest, even three-hundred fold.
Herodotus, The Histories 1.93
The three ancient witnesses concerning the abundant crop yields clearly testify that the biblical narrative is not an exaggeration.
“Anyone who has ears should listen.” The Greek literally translated reads, “He who has ears, let him hear.” It means emphatically to “pay attention!” This strange passage hardly makes any sense to the modern reader, but to the first century Jew it was an invitation to seek the deeper meaning of what Jesus was speaking. In essence, Jesus said that there are many who hear but they do not understand or perceive His words. However, they should understand.
. To “cast by hand” means to take a handful of seeds and throw them by hand over a desired area.
. It should be noted that the tetrarchs, puppet kings, and other rulers of Galilee, Judea, Samaria, Perea, and Banias were also under the control of district headquarters located in Damascus at this time.
. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Varro/de_Re_Rustica/1*.html Retrieved July 9, 2011.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:80.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 204.